Get $5 off your pre-order of THE READER'S ADVISORY GUIDE TO HORROR THIRD EDITION. Click here and enter RAGH21 at checkout. Works with your ALA Member Discount also.


I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Friday, November 19, 2021

7 Super RA Ideas Anyone Can Do via NoveList and an RA for All Announcement

RA for All is going on vacation after today until November 29th. So I wanted to leave you with something of a general nature, something you can use to explore multiple RA Service based ideas over the next week, and it is from NoveList-- 7 Super RA Ideas [That Anyone Can Do].

Below I have reposted the headers to pique your interest and make you realize this post is worth a click through.

Also, this NoveList post is a great introduction to a new series/archive that I am going to spend December working on-- A Greatest Hits of RA for All Archive.

I will be sunsetting the Call to Action page and replacing it with a post that archives some of my most popular and foundational posts-- including some of those Call to Action posts. 

I have had dozens of requests in the last few months to offer a portal to the "greatest hits" of RA for All for managers to share with their staff. While much of that is encapsulated in my 10 Rules of Basic RA Service page, not all is there. I will also annotate the link list so that it can be used as a purposeful training tool.

While I will get that archive up and running before the end of the year, I will also probably spend part of January highlighting it and some of my most popular and enduring posts to help you get the new year off to a great start.

But to keep you out of trouble over the next week....I mean to offer you training content, here are 7 excellent ideas. Try some at your library:

One thing we message about a lot at NoveList is that anyone can do readers’ advisory and that there are good ideas to be found outside, on the internet, in your library, on TV – basically almost anywhere. Here are some of the easiest we’ve seen in webinars, on social media, and in other conversations with library staff from around the world – all perfect for when you feel out of ideas.

    1. Create timely, seasonal displays.
    2. Share what staff are reading.
    3. Sticky note RA.
    4. What your neighbor is reading display.
    5. The Island of Forgotten Books. 
    6. Stalk the readers
    7. Participate in social media conversations.
Click through to read the full article. Seriously, it is excellent and easily replicable. These are great ideas that you can do from any place in the Library's organizational chart. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

RA for All Virtual Appearance: Illinois Heartland Library System Member Day


Today I am attending and appearing at the IHLS Member Day 2021.

Illinois Heartland Library System is one of 3 systems in IL. Chicago Public is its own system, RAILS [for which I am on the Board of Directors currently] is basically the northern half, and IHLS has all the rest.

And I stress that last point....all the rest. It is a lot of area to cover, but today, they are all gathering online for a great day of learning and it is FREE. From the website:

Member Day 2021: Celebrating Libraries, Building Partnerships

November 18, 2021 

A virtual day of professional development, networking, and inspiration for library leaders, staff, and trustees of IHLS's member libraries

Open and FREE to all staff of IHLS libraries thanks in part to our generous sponsors!

Member Day is Illinois Heartland Library System's biggest continuing education and networking event of the year! IHLS Member Day started as an annual day of member appreciation and has developed into a full one-day conference chock-full of learning opportunities and Professional Development Hours. It has also been designed to provide a large-scale networking opportunity for all IHLS membership, both with system staff and with each other.

I was honored to be asked to present during this event. This entire day of learning is available to every single person who works at an IHLS library for no cost. They just need to be a library staff member. Talk about inclusive continuing education opportunities. Well done! And since it is virtual and recorded, everyone can participate when they are able to. Double well done!

Fo ray part, I am taking the goal of the day to INSPIRE, so I am presenting my Secrets of Stellar Readers' Advisory Service program. This program is a greatest hits of how to provide interactive RA from any library, by any staff member. 

If you only have enough time for me to be somewhere for 45-60 minutes, this program gets you the most useable content.

You can all access the slides at this link or by clicking on the screen shot of the first slide below.

Click here to access the slides 

See some of you later.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Best Books 2021: Goodreads Choice Awards

This post is part of my year end "Attack of the Best Lists" coverage. To see every post in my "Best Books 2021" series you can use the best lists tag

Click here to enter the Best Books Portal 

Each year Goodreads does their version of a "Best Books" list in a variety of categories. The editors create the categories and provide a long list of titles for users to vote on, in multiple rounds. [In the past they have allowed write-ins during the first round, but not this year.]

You can click here to see the Best Books 2021 homepage.

Currently, we are in the first round. Here is the voting schedule:


Opening RoundNov. 16 - 28
Final RoundNov. 30 - Dec. 5
Winners AnnouncedDec. 9

I am posting that schedule just so you know it, but for your purposes this opening round is THE BEST round because it has the largest number of titles in the running for "best," meaning that you have the most options for displays and suggestions.

While their categories aren't exhaustive [especially in YA and MG] there are more categories than your average best books list, and many of the titles are a bit more midlist, meaning they might be on your shelves right now.

Readers love this Best Books page because they get to make the list. Their votes pick the winners. Not critics telling them what is best, but readers getting to let their opinions win. For better or worse, in your opinion, this creates conversation and excitement around books, and that is exactly our goal in providing RA Service-- creating conversations. 

As a suggestion and display tool, this Best Books portal is a great resource. 

I also love that the portal has easy access to every year of Best Books homepages right in the left gutter. You cannot miss it. This is key because the last 2-5 years of best book nominees are your go-to suggestion tool at this time of year. Why? Because these are sure bet, proven titles that your patrons would not find without you. They are still "best;" they don't lose that distinction when the calendar flips to a new year. Also, they are probably on your shelf right now. 

Real talk time. This resource is not perfect. I know that. No resource is perfect if we are being honest. But as one of the only reader driven best lists [not expert or critic driven], the Goodreads Best Books 2021 is unique and useful in real time. 

It is also participatory. Readers get to vote. Don't count that part out. They are excited about having a say. Feed off of this excitement and use the portal in your year end wrap ups.  

And whether you have an account or not, you can access all of it, including reader reviews, and use it all to help patrons. 

So you can be salty about everything that this Best List leaves out, or you can embrace what we have and use it to create conversations around books at your library. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

NPR Books Editor Petra Mayer

Sometimes friendships from college disappear forever and you never think about people who spent hours upon hours with in a basement for three years, and then there are happy coincidences like the one Petra Mayer and I got to live.

From 1993-96 I knew Petra Mayer through my work at WAMH, the AmherstCollege radio station. We were both highly involved in management and radio was our number one activity outside of classes. While Petra was a year ahead of me, she was the Chief Engineer and I worked my may up from Sports Director to Program Director. At one point we held 2 of the top 3 management positions running a 24 hour a day radio station [and we both had the pagers we had to carry 24/7 to prove it....ahhh the 90s].  

Here is a photo from, I think, Winter 1995 of the WAMH Executive Board. Petra is in the bottom left corner and 19yr old me is next to her. [Thanks to one of my oldest and dearest friends, Adam, for sending this to me via email over the weekend].

I am not exaggerating about the number of hours we spent together, in that basement station. I can still picture her hovering over some of our equipment, trying to keep it working just a little longer, sitting in meetings giving our reports, and yes, rushing to the station at 2 am because something happened with the first year running the middle of the night shift and we got paged to run over there ASAP. 

Petra graduated the year before me. I knew she decided to stay with radio because I was still considering it too [although a summer internship at a commercial station made me reconsider], but after a few years, I moved into a different field and we lost touch. 

I remember when the NPR Books job opened. They were advertising for an editor of their books coverage, someone who would make their website more dynamic and responsive to readers, someone who could help blend their presence online with the radio coverage. As a NPR supporter, I was hopeful they would pick someone good, someone who would make NPR books less stuffy. And then I heard the name Petra Mayer and my heart was happy. 

While we never had the chance to work together directly, we did touch base multiple times while she held this job, especially when they did Horror for the Summer Reads and over the work of our mutual friend Gabino Iglesias. Petra was one of the first people to hire Gabino as a literary critic. [For the record, I asked her to figure out how she could get NPR to let him read some of his reviews on air, and while she agreed he should, she also said all she could do was suggest it.]

Petra died suddenly over the weekend. While people I knew in college have died, no one I spent so much time with, no one I knew so intimately, and no one I respected as much has. The fact that our paths crossed so directly in the years after college always made me smile. I had even told my daughter-- an Amherst student, WAMH DJ, and podcast director for the college newspaper-- that after the holidays she should talk to Petra about what it is like to work at NPR. 

If you have enjoyed the Book Conceirge, any of NPR Books' serious consideration of genre books, the diversification of their print reviewers, or just ever use their excellent website, you can thank Petra.

She will be missed by so many-- those that knew her, worked with her, and loved her, yes, but so many others had no idea who she was, but appreciated her work on a regular basis. 

That's the point of this post I guess. To remind you all that our favorite resources are still directed by people, people who may be mostly behind the scenes, but they are there. And some of them are extraordinary.

Monday, November 15, 2021

LibraryReads: December 2021

    It's LibraryReads day and that means four things here on RA for All

  1. I post the list and tag it “Library Reads” so that you can easily pull up every single list with one click.
  2. I can remind you that even though the newest list is always fun to see, it is the older lists where you can find AWESOME, sure bet suggestions for patrons that will be on your shelf to actually hand to them right now. The best thing about LibraryReads is the compound interest it is earning. We now have hundreds and hundreds of titles worth suggesting right at our fingertips through this archive OR the sortable master list allowing you to mix and match however you want.
  3. You have no excuse not to hand sell any LibraryReads titles because there is a book talk right there in the list in the form of the annotation one of your colleagues wrote for you. All you have to say to your patron is, “such and such library worker in blank state thought this was a great read,” and then you read what he or she said.
  4. Every upcoming book now has at least 1 readalike that is available to hand out RIGHT NOW. Book talk the upcoming book, place a hold for it, and then hand out that readalike title for while they wait. If they need more titles before their hold comes in, use the readalike title to identify more readalike titles. And then keep repeating. Seriously, it is that easy to have happy, satisfied readers.
So get out there and suggest a good read to someone today. I don’t care what list or resource you use to find the suggestion, just start suggesting books.

Please remember to click here for everything you need to know about how to participate. Click here to see a database of eligible diverse titles sorted by month.

And finally, here is LibraryReads' extremely helpful Resources page.

Now let's get to that list.... 


Announcing the November 2021 LibraryReads List!

The Ballerinas: A Novel 

by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

St. Martin's Press

“Delphine is returning to Paris to choreograph her own ballet. Here she meets up with her lifelong friends and fellow dancers Margaux and Lindsay. This absorbing and thrilling character-driven novel explores the world of ballet and its mysteries

and secrets. Give to fans of Luster, Trust Exercise, and My Dark Vanessa.”

—Terri Smith, Cornelia Library, Mt. Airy, GA 

NoveList read-alike: The Turn-Out by Megan Abbott

And now the rest of the list:

Beasts of a Little Land: A Novel 

by Juhea Kim


“Hauntingly tragic and beautifully tender, the story of Jade Ahn is interwoven with the fate of Korea in the early 20th century. Jade is apprenticed to a courtesan at a young age, and her friendships there form an unbreakable bond that leads them through multiple tragedies and loves. Recommended for fans of Min Jin Lee and Amy Tan.”

—Joy Matteson, Downers Grove Public Library, Downers Grove, IL 
NoveList read-alike: If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

Bright Burning Things: A Novel 

by Lisa Harding


“A searing portrait of addiction and recovery, told in the voice of Sonya, a former actress, raging alcoholic, and mother to four-year-old Tommy. When she almost sets the house on fire, her father forces her to rehab, if not for her sake, then for Tommy's. Sonya travels the difficult road to reintegrate into society and reclaim her beloved son. For fans of Shuggie Bain and All Fall Down. ”

—Lisa Burris, Bear Public Library, Bear, DE
NoveList read-alike: Catch Us When We Fall by Juliette Fay

The Cat Who Saved Books: A Novel 

by Sosuke Natsukawa


“A used bookstore, a grieving teen with an appreciation of reading, and a talking cat! What more could you ask of a fantasy? Throw in a mission to free lost and damaged books and a bit of readers' advisory, and you have a thoughtful exploration of the truths behind the pleasures of reading. For fans of author Roselle Lim and The Little Paris Bookshop.”

—Lucy Lockley, St. Charles City-County Library, St. Peters, MO 
NoveList read-alike: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

A History of Wild Places: A Novel 

by Shea Ernshaw

Atria Books

“Travis has a gift: when he touches something, he experiences the memories associated with it. His path to find a missing author leads him to a remote commune. Then he too disappears. When one of the residents of that commune finds his truck years later, he realizes that the darkness they fled may already be in Pastoral. For fans of Saint X and The Girls.”

—Deborah Smith, Weber County Library, Roy, UT 
NoveList read-alike: Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt


The Love Con 

by Seressia Glass

Berkley Jove

“Engineer Kenya is a finalist on the reality show Cosplay or No Way, but to win she needs pal Cam to pretend he’s her boyfriend. This is a fun friends-to- lovers, fake dating romance that will best suit folks into cosplay, cons, or geeky pursuits. For fans of Jen Deluca and Sara Desai.”

—Alezandra Troiani, Sno-Isle Libraries, Marysville, WA 
NoveList read-alike: Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert

Murder Under Her Skin: A Pentecost and Parker Mystery

By Stephen Spotswood


“These fun throwback hard- boiled mysteries feature two female sleuths in the post- war 1940s--Lillian Pentecost, an unorthodox Brooklyn detective, and her unlikely partner, circus runaway Will Parker. Their second case involves a murder at Will’s former circus, and is perfect for readers of Rex Stout and Agatha Christie.”

—Patti Cheney, Pima County Public Library, Tucson, AZ
NoveList read-alike: Blood and Circuses by Kerry Greenwood

My Darling Husband: A Novel 

by Kimberly Belle

Park Row

“Atlanta restaurateur Cam Lasky seemingly has it all, until a fire at his eatery and a terrifying home invasion threaten to destroy all he holds dear. With multiple perspectives adding to the mystery, this is another clever, fast-paced thriller from Belle. For readers of Lisa Gardner and Chevy Stevens.”

—Jayme Oldham, Highland Park Public Library, Highland Park, IL 
NoveList read-alike: The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

The Replacement Wife

By Darby Kane

William Morrow Paperbacks

"Elisa's best friend, fiancée to her brother-in-law Josh, has disappeared and no one else seems worried. Elisa is suspicious of Josh, especially since he already has one dead wife. Will anyone believe her before it’s too late? For readers of The Girl on the Train and other unreliable-narrator thrillers.”

—Chris Markley, Kingsport Public Library, Kingsport, TN 
NoveList read-alike: The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

True Crime Story: A Novel 

by Joseph Knox

Sourcebooks Landmark

“What happened to Zoe Nolan? She walked out of her dorm room and hasn’t been seen since. Knox weaves together interviews, emails, and police reports into an immersive missing persons case that will leave readers gasping for breath up until the last page. For fans of The Word Is Murder and the Six Stories series.”

—Carol Ann Tack, Merrick Library, Merrick, NY
NoveList read-alike: Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar

The LibraryReads Hall of Fame designation honors authors who have had multiple titles appear on the monthly LibraryReads list since 2013. When their third title places on the list via library staff votes, the author moves into our Hall of Fame.

Click here to access the Hall of Fame Archive with annotations and readalikes


The Midnight Hour 

by Elly Griffiths

Mariner Books

Friday, November 12, 2021

Resource Alert: Book Newsletters

Regular readers of this blog know that I love to identify outside the box resources for us to use to help patrons. And I especially like resources that are directed at the reader. 

Today I have a category that fits that bill-- Book Newsletters. Back in February, Book Riot had this list 20 book newsletters that had me contemplating the newsletter as a resource.

What I enjoy about this list is that the newsletters themselves are have a different focus, covering fiction, nonfiction, and various formats. And most importantly, there were many I had never heard of. Yes, some are from authors and a few are Book Riot newsletters, but many were eye opening in their creativity.

My favorite example-- Books on GIF. A book review newsletter told completely with GIFS. Talk about outside the box.

These newsletters can be used by you to get new ideas for a VERY wide range of readers, to make displays, and to think of new ways to reach different readers. But they can also be put on your website, on the page where have your resource to help readers already listed. Let them know what is out there and provide the links for them to sign up for themselves. You can even do a series of social media posts highlighting different newsletters.

Think outside the box, both in the resources you consult to help readers, but also in how you pass resources on to your patrons. Showing them a wide array of resources that they can use to help themselves is excellent RA Service. It shows them that you care about helping them. It also prioritizes the RA Relationship over the RA Transaction, which is at the heart of my brand of RA Service. 

We want to be the conduit for conversations around leisure reading in our communities. The number of books we actually match with readers is NOT important. Rather, what is most important is cultivating relationships around books and reading at the library. Providing your patrons with lists of book newsletters they may enjoy, especially when they come from somewhere other than the library, is excellent and thoughtful service to your readers. Whether you can directly connect it to a check out or not, you can definitely use it to connect patrons with your library and its services. 

Have a great weekend. 

Back Monday with the December LibraryReads list!

Thursday, November 11, 2021

RA for All Virtual Roadshow Visits Lower Merion [PA] Library System

Today I am visiting the Lower Merion Libraries in PA, near Philly, to provide the afternoon sessions for their staff day. They have about 70 employees who will be participating in different ways-- in person in the same room, in small groups around the same computer, and even alone from home.

I am sharing these details because I think it is great that they are making an effort to allow for safety as they gather for learning. One of the things I talk about in my general RA training [which they are getting] is that when push came to shove and our buildings were closed, we all had to figure out how to meet, work, and serve patrons in a virtual environment and now, we can never go back to the time when we said this was not possible.

It is nice to see a library living in this new world, one that I argue is better for both staff and patrons. But back to today's schedule. 

I will be appearing virtually for 2 afternoon sessions geared toward all staff.

First, the 90 minute, highly interactive general RA training-- Flip the Script and Think Like a Reader. This program is the most fun you can have while still learning and bonding as a team. Seriously. I am not bragging, it is true. Why? Because for 3/4 of this program every staff member is focusing on themselves as readers. And all of us library workers know that while others think all we do is read, we rarely have a chance to read at work, let alone focus on what we like to read and why. But in this program, that is where we begin, with yourself as a reader. From there I bring you to working together and serving patrons better.

This program has slides but most of it is simply a recreation of my permanent Ten Rules of Basic RA Service page which you can find here.

After a 15 minute break, I will be presenting my Actively Anti-Racist Service to Leisure Readers program. This is without Robin Bradford [reminder, she is only available 1x a month], but I do as much as I can to give some of her information [with credit to her] in this program. 

I am excited to interact with Lower Merion Library System today, to help them bond as a team, and to pass on the joy of service to leisure readers through the local public library.

I am currently booking 2022 training programs both virtual and in-person. Click here to contact me, or here to see my recent and upcoming clients and programs

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Best Books 2021: Fated Mates Podcast's Best Romance of the Year

This post is part of my year end "Attack of the Best Lists" coverage. To see every post in my "Best Books 2021" series you can use the best lists tag

While the vast majority of "best lists" that receive mainstream attention are literary fiction based, it is the genre lists that are my favorites. Why? Because they help our most loyal patrons; genre readers are the ones we see on a regular basis. As genre lists go, I love ones that include the voice of experts-- both authors and readers. 

Fated Mates is one such stellar example in the Romance genre. Fated Mates is a Romance Novel podcast with author Sarah MacLean and Romance critic [and English teacher] Jen Prokop. Click here to learn more about them and the podcast, but also from the homepage:

Fated Mates is a romance novel podcast co-hosted by author Sarah MacLean and romance critic Jen Prokop. Weekly episodes include romance novel read-alongs and discussions of the work of the genre, highlighting the romance novel as a powerful tool in fighting patriarchy…with absolutely no kink shaming.

You should be using Fated Mates, the podcast, the website, and their Twitter feed [as well as Jen's personal Twitter] to follow the goings on in the Romance genre at all times. But specifically, the current episode is their Best Romances of 2021 spectacular.

This is my favorite episode of theirs each year. Why? Well first, I am not a Romance fan myself. I listen to this podcast to understand what is going on in the genre, but I don't listen to every episode. However, this one is RA and Collection Development gold. MacLean and Prokop always discuss the genre with respect. They are clearly fans but also have a lot of fun. Hearing their "best" of any year is not only a great way for me to get up to speed on the best title in Romance, but it also gives me a sense of the "why" they are best including a discussion of trends and issues in the genre.

All of you need to be using best lists to make sure you have the copies mentioned in your collections and to make displays for your patrons. But please, with the onslaught of the more literary based lists, don't forget GENRE. Those are just as important. Actually, I would argue that genre based beast lists are even more important. Why? Because genre best lists are not as easily available or apparent to your patrons. Help them to help themselves. 

Whether or not you are a romance reader, we all know that Romance is in the top 3 of circulating genres at your library. I know many of you are disparaging of this fact. Get over yourselves. Romance readers are THE BEST at talking about why they love the books they love. They are some of the most passionate readers out there. [all puns intended] End of discussion. 

Click here to access the podcast to listen to why these are they Best Romance Novels of 2021 and to see the covers and titles. Or go to this excellent Twitter thread with all of the titles.

Now if you will excuse me, I have a few holds to place thanks to Fated Mates.

Click here to subscribe in your app of choice
 or to enter the podcast website for more info.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Using Awards Lists as a RA Tool: Mark Twain American Voice in Literature Award [w/ a Carnegie Medal Update]

This is part of my ongoing series on using Awards Lists as a RA tool. Click here for all posts in the series in reverse chronological order. Click here for the first post which outlines the details how to use awards lists as a RA tool.  

The Mark Twain House announced its annual American Voice in Literature Award and this year the award went to a HORROR novel--- The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Click here to go to the award announcement 

I will remind you that I was very clear at the end of 2020 that this novel was the not only the best novel in any genre that I had read last year, it was actually the best novel I read period, in many years

Two things form this announcement I wanted to share with you:

  1. Horror can be considered literature and even the "voice" of our country. Any genre can. Genre bias, hate, and disparagement are all problematic for a variety of reasons. I hope this win allows everyone to take Horror more seriously. And don't be mistaken, this is a Horror novel. Yes it is also lyrical and though provoking, but there is terror, bloody action sequences, and a terrifying tone sustained throughout. You don't get to call it "literary" Horror. It is just Horror.
  2. I had no idea about this award and now that I have learned about it, I want to make sure all of you do too, because it an awesome example of the entire thesis of this series-- that awards lists make the best RA tool.
While I am over the moon excited about this win for a great novel and an even better human, I want to focus on that second point because if I was unaware of this prize, which has been given out since 2016, I am guessing you are too.

Also, the Mark Twain House and Museum website has NO archive of past award announcements and winners, so I have finagled a link that can get you more information by running a search, here. And even that search is not comprehensive. This is probably why more people are not aware of this award. If there is not archive of past nominees and winners, it is very hard to get the word out and use it as a tool.

What is legible for this award? According to the 2021 announcement:

The MTAVL goes to the work of fiction published in the previous calendar year (in this case, 2020) that best exemplifies or expresses a uniquely American voice, much in the way that Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn does. Author David Baldacci, a trustee and generous supporter of the museum, is the impetus behind and benefactor of the MTAVL and will present the award.

Here is a list of some of the titles that have won or have been long listed:

  • Deacon King Kong by James McBride
  • Sea Wife by Amity Gage
  • The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones 
  • The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai 
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer 
  • Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekeran
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney 
  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
  • The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle, inaugural winner
This list is not exhaustive, but it is impressive. The popularity and critical acclaim of these titles is staggering. They also represent the breadth of experience of being an "American" as well as representing many genres. 

This list is a treasure trove of highly readable, critically acclaimed titles that you can suggest with confidence. It would make a great display. 

These titles would never be considered readalikes in the traditional sense of matching their appeal factors, but they are all united by being considered as representative of the "American Voice."

I also like this idea of "American Voice" as a display that can cross genres and identities. Play with that at your library too. 

Finally, a bonus announcement. Here is an update to my post on the long list for the Carnegie Medal. The three finalists in fiction and three in nonfiction were named here. But don't forget about the HUGE long list for your RA purposes.

Click here to access the award homepage

Monday, November 8, 2021

What I'm Reading: Echo by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Today I have a review of one of the most anticipated Horror novels of 2022 via Booklist. As usual, I have posted my draft review with extra appeal info, more readalikes, and my "three words."

By Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Feb. 2022. 416p. Tor Nightfire, $28.99 (9781250759559); e-book, $14.99 (9781250759573)
First published November 1, 2021 (Booklist).

Dutch Horror master Olde Heuvelt returns with an epic tale of madness that, while less focused than Hex, is just as frightening. Nick and Sam are young, handsome men, blissfully in love, until Nick is horribly disfigured in a climbing accident on Le Maudit, an Alpine mountain that even the locals won’t climb. From the moment Nick is rescued, it is clear that he has brought something dark back with him, a force whose power is spilling out of his wrecked face and infecting others, with deadly consequences. Opening with a masterfully terrifying scene, the stage is set for a high anxiety, cinematic tale, and Olde Heuvelt delivers with an intimate and disorienting storytelling style, told by alternating Sam’s notes as he grapples with demons from his past and present with Nick’s diary entries and a confession, parsed out in five sections. The plot may be a slow burn, but the horror is immersive and the fear paralyzing, as readers experience mortal danger, freezing cold, and debilitating vertigo along with the characters. Clearly reminiscent of classic King tomes, but also for fans of more recent coming-of-age Horror like The Bright Lands by Fram or highly suspenseful stories with a strong sense of place like Road of Bones by Golden.

Further Appeal:  First I want to point out a major things about this book that I would not fit in the review: all of the chapter titles in this book are the titles of classic Horror novels and the epigraph for each chapter is a quote from that book. If you know the book, it adds a layer of enjoyment to each chapter and the story as a whole, but if you do not know the title, it does not ruin it at all. Over time, I found it to be a bit much personally, too many side references, but I can easily envision readers for which this will be a very fun scavenger hunt within the book.

When I say it is not a focused as Hex that is NOT a negative statement. Hex is all about the claustrophobia: the witch who holds the town hostage, they cannot leave, they challenge her and she still wins. It is terrifying because they are trapped and she is physically controlling them.

Echo is the opposite of claustrophobic. It is terrifying because the setting is so vast-- the Alps! Also the supernatural monster is so amorphous. The witch in Hex is a single monster. The deadly monster in Echo is a part of the mountain and has been carried off it by Nick. The power it has on those around Nick, is intense and terrifying.

If Hex had not been so popular, I wouldn't make a big deal about these difference, but these books are very different and many casual Horror readers who loved Hex might be disappointed. So my overall advice to suggest this book is-- if you like Horror in general you will be very happy with Echo. However, if you liked Hex and are not a Horror reader in general, this might not be for you.

A couple of other thoughts while I read:

  • Excellent mountain climbing frame and  love story-- not a romance though. Interesting stylistic choices that add to the enjoyment.
  • Terrifying but no time to stop and contemplate your fear because the chapters are all different in style and voice
  • Immersive-- the dread builds and then it stops and switches you somewhere else-- person, storytelling style. It is disorienting but also keeps the suspense and intensity ratcheted up at 10 for the entirety of its 400 pages. Very well done. 
  • Compelling because of these reasons. The pages keep turning. As a reader, it feels like you are trapped int eh story and cannot get out. Like Nick's victims. There is not way out. I am being very vague here because I don't want to give it away but there is a word in the review that gives a bit away after you have read it. 
  • Paralyzed with fear while reading, you need to snap out of it each time there is a new chapter.
  • Maudit is a real mountain. "CURSED" is the meaning of the word. Googling that while reading added even more chills.
  • Cinematic, character driven story line.
  • Written in a conversational style because it is notes, correspondences, confessions. It makes it more intimate and more real at the same time.
  • Timeline is fluid
  • Story filled with ghost stories. Not just the main one. That was cool. Some are concealed in a line or two. 
  • Flawed main character- Sam, who has to overcome his own demons and an actual monster. Nick and Sam are great characters. You root for them despite everything-- and everything is A LOT!
Without giving anything away-- even though the setting is vast and outside the normal experience of the average reader-- super serious mountain climbing-- the terror is VERY realistic. It comes into the real world experience of every reader.

Again, it is worth repeating-- the opening scene is AMAZING and TERRIFYING.

My one reason why I didn't give it a star is this: It is missing something larger to bring it all together. Sam is the center but "why" is he telling us this story. His personal journey and confessions while interesting, were not enough to bring it all together for me.

Three words that describe this book: slow burn, terrifying, immersive

Readalikes: As the author says at the start, every single chapter title is a Horror novel that he hopes you read. But those are all older. 

For another newer title, try Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo. This is also an epic, Gothic novel that both models itself off of classics in the genre, with gay main characters. Also it has a very specific frame too. While Echo is filled with mountain climbing details, Summer Suns is bursting with cars and drag racing specifics. Many readers love a very specific and detailed frame where they also learn something new. For those readers, this is a great options.

The two in the review above, however, get to the heart of major appeal factors.